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[658] Fictions I: The Garden of Forking Paths – Jorge Luis Borges


” He walked into the tatters of flame, but they did not bite his flesh—they caressed him, bathed him without heat and without combustion. With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he realized that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him. ” (From The Circular Ruins)

Borges is a brilliant mind. This collection of 8 stories, through Borges’s best-known motifs like mirror, labyrinth, library, and chance, explores the ideas of parallel times in a multiverse in which, we, human beings, are part of the mystery that it’s impossible for us to attain full knowledge of such infinite domain. Borges is really a philosopher’s writer: he uses literary narratives as a vehicle for expressing the ideas of philosophy and in particular, epistemology (a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge).

That is the theme of the Lottery, put symbolically. In reality, the number of drawings is infinite. No decision is final; all branch into others. The ignorant assume that infinite drawings require infinite time; actually, all that is required is that time be infinitely subdivisible. (From The Lottery in Babylon)

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, in which a group of scholars forge an imaginary, dystopian planet, complete with all aspects in life. Fashioned for the purpose of replacing the known world, the story actually has a deeper meaning about the inherent tyranny of totally ordered societies. The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim is highly ironic fiction disguised as and embedded in a literary review. It’s about the search of a man from whom admirable, almost saintly, virtues emanates. Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote is quite the trick. It’s mind-bending parody of a literary dispute, about a writer, Pierre Menard, whose greatest achievement is to recompose, but word for word, two chapters of Don Quixote. It explores different authorial aims and meanings, the socio-historical situation over time. The Circular Ruins concerns the ever-connecting generations. Each generation owes its origin and existence to the previous one. Borges implies writers as creators who engender one another and whose existence and originality would be impossible without their predecessors. The Lottery in Babylon is a metaphor for the role of chance in life. The all-knowing and omnipotent deity at work behind the world’s happenings is no more than chance. Therefore it makes no difference whether one affirms or denies a religious deity. A Survey of the Work of Herbert Quain is about another invented author and his oeuvre. The Library of Babel describes a library that houses every book that has ever been written (and not written) in infinite hexagonal galleries. The library, a continuum labyrinth, is a metaphysical replica of the universe, a homogeneity space. The search of meaning in the honeycomb rooms is seldom rewarded, therefore, complete knowledge is impossible. We’re limited to what is comprehensible to humans.

This collection of short stories calls for readers who are committed thinkers. Borges is playful stylist but he is dense with allusion to literature, culture, philosophy and language. Beneath his satirical tone is an innovativeness and a laconic integrity. Borges subverts our preconceived notion of what fiction is and enlightens his readers what fiction is capable to achieve. Borges uses the reader’s collective memory—preconceived images, ideas, experiences, and knowledge as the foundation of his stories, only to subvert them and replace with a new, unfamiliar context. To undertand Borges, one must understand the most fundamental thing that Borges’s relies upon, only to subvert soon after, is the knowledge of the division between fiction and non-fiction, which has been developed through years of exposure to the written word and its many forms.

64 pp. Penguin. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]


3 Responses

  1. His work has always seemed so intimidating to me. This is a good reminder to embrace the challenge.

  2. Borges’ writing is as much an intellectual exercise as our reading. It is challenging but this is what makes me slow down, think, and engage in critical thinking in my head. I often go back to the beginning and re-read in order to better understand what he is trying to project.

  3. […] [658] Fictions I: The Garden of Forking Paths – Jorge Luis Borges […]

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